Saturday, January 2, 2010


Final Thoughts On Boettke Et Al.'s Preferred Nomenclature

Whenever you get into Internet arguments it soon becomes apparent that your own comments sow confusion / hurt feelings / etc. because other people don't understand where you are coming from. In my previous post regarding the decision of GMU's Pete Boettke and the his co-bloggers to rename their site "Coordination Problem" instead of "The Austrian Economists," I surely did not win hearts and minds when I said: "So it is a bit exasperating when Boettke et al. decide to split off precisely when the strategy that others have been pushing has paid off so incredibly."

Let me clarify. Ever since I have been active in circles where the economics of Mises and Hayek are held in high esteem, there has been a question of strategy. Obviously no one is saying, "We know all we need to learn about economics. Let's stop doing research." No, the strategic point was always, "We are shut out from the mainstream. Our kids won't get a job unless they learn a bunch of math and Keynesian models, and publish accordingly. What should we do about this?"

So some people decided to focus their efforts on making these ideas and techniques more palatable to mainstream economists who were used to 8 page journal articles with 3 paragraphs of text and the rest filled with equations. Other people decided to focus their efforts on transmitting the basic ideas to a broad audience, both for general purposes of education and defense of liberty (since the public won't endorse tyrannical measures if they understand sound economics), but also as a way of tipping the scales in favor of the Misesian and Hayekian ideas. After all, if 95% of the incoming economics undergrads loved Human Action, and financial analysts and WSJ editorialists always discussed how flawed the Keynesian approach was and praised Mises instead, then it would be a lot harder for the big schools to keep their intellectual lock on economics.

But guess what? There are obvious flaws with both strategies in their pure form. If it were really the case that only pundits and radio talk show hosts praised Mises, while all the PhDs thought he was a crank, then it could actually backfire and ensure that the "smart people" distanced themselves from him. But by the same token, the other strategy could backfire too: If nobody in the public cared about "Austrian economics," and all incoming freshmen who wanted to major in economics thought in terms of macro aggregates and spent their time studying set theory and differential equations, then there would be little hope of ever changing the professional structure such that it wasn't suicidal for, say, someone to do his economics dissertation on the Hayekian triangle.

So, duh, the obvious "solution"--and one which appealed to all the econ geeks in the discussion--was to have a division of labor. Obviously someone like Walter Block was simply meant to be an undergrad professor at a school where you didn't need an 800 on your math SAT to get in. And--holy cow!--it was amazing what tenure track positions Pete Boettke's students out of GMU were getting.

I am not reinventing history here, that was how I saw things back when I was teaching at Hillsdale College (2003-2006). I thought the Mises Institute and were doing wonders in evangelizing to the masses, and were doing a great service (especially with all the free stuff it was putting online) in getting young people interested in Austrian economics. The job of people like Walter Block (and way way way less so, me at Hillsdale College) was to prep kids to then go off to GMU where Boettke would find them a job at a mid-level PhD-granting university. (If I came across someone with very good math skills, I would mention the possibility of NYU and explain the pros and cons.) Over time, other places like San Jose State were becoming meccas too, and I'd mention that to students.

It seemed like the strategy was working, and much better than anybody would have guessed ten years previously. Pete Leeson for example published a paper discussing anarcho-capitalism in a prestigious journal out of Chicago, for example (edited by the Freakonomics guy)!! I was flabbergasted. Wow that was awesome, Boettke was surprising me by showing it wasn't a career killer if you published on "Austrian" themes, you just had to do it right.

Then my next shock was when Tom Woods was on the New York Times bestseller list. What the heck, can that possibly be right?!! I must confess when I first saw someone refer to him as a "bestselling author" on LRC, I assumed it must have meant, "Among the books we sold at our conference last year, Tom Woods was #1..."

And if you had asked me in 2006, "How long before Austrian economics becomes 'cool' enough so that someone can matter-of-factly discuss it on Jay Leno?" I would probably have said, "Let me work on my stand-up act and maybe in 20 years we'll get there."

And if you had asked me in 2006, "How long before angry college crowds chant 'end the Fed' because they are vaguely familiar with the Austrian business cycle theory and realize the central bank is an evil institution?" I would have laughed in your face. Yeah right, we're going to get college students riled up about central banking? You must be a libertarian nutjob, since you're clearly smoking something, buddy.


So, given the above, I hope people at least understand my profound frustration when Boettke et al. give as one of their explicit reasons for changing their name that Google alerts has shown over the last year how much discussion there has been linking the Austrian business cycle theory to anti-Fed rhetoric. For anybody who thought the "big plan" that would bring great results in 10 years was to distribute our efforts as I've described above, it is rather a let-down when the GMU-associated guys are explicitly renouncing the brand name.

What happens now when someone asks me, "Yeah I'm in an economics program at small school XYZ, my professors are Keynesians but I love Mises. My GREs are such-and-such. Where should I go to learn more about Austrian economics?"

Am I supposed to even mention GMU at this point? I'm not being rhetorical, I'm serious. Does GMU want people who like the term "Austrian economics" or do they want to get blank slates?

Like I said, this isn't an empty question. I give free advice to at least a dozen such students a year. I honestly don't know how I'm supposed to tell them the landscape at this point, since the "division of labor" in getting Austrian ideas into the mainstream was obviously not a universally shared one.

Perhaps we should take note of the Austrian Economics site's ranking for web visits (or whatever the relevant metric) before and after the name change.

They seem hung up on the Google search feature. My guess is that traffic to their site will plummet with this new name.
Von Pepe, I think your prediction is right but in fairness to Boettke et al. I think they would say, "Our purpose isn't to get web traffic. We are saying that because of so much traffic regarding Ron Paul etc., the stuff we want to talk about is now being lost in the mix. So in order to clearly communicate our ideas to the other academics we're targeting, we want to switch the name. We would rather get 50 visitors from other econ departments, than 5000 visitors from militias."
I would agree with everything you just said. But, I would suggest that from now forward they will basically be talking only to themselves and a few outsiders who already know the site. No new traffic, and especially no new traffic from an academic who is curious to learn more or doing a search.

So, Pete, Steve, and Dave can keep posting memories about the 80's to each other and talking with each other about everything they already agree upon.
I think the name change will just confuse people and limit their influence. They'll expend a lot of effort trying differentiate themselves and miss out on a lot of opportunities that a brand name provides.

I recall some years ago a little town outside Detroit, called East Detroit. They hated the name association with their bigger neighbor, so in 1992 they voted to change the name to Eastpointe, with the -pointe reference giving the town a mark of exclusivity with other posh towns of Grosse Pointe, et al. To me, they are still East Detroit, always will be.

Unless the GMU folks plan on laying down some serious Nobel-winning theory in the coming years, they'll always be Austrians--just the ones who changed their name, albeit a rather mysterious one.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
I can see why they'd want to distance themselves from the Austro-libertarianism.

While I think Paul, Schiff, LvMI,, GMU and Cato (yes, I say this no matter what some of the hardcore LvMI people will say) are all a part of the same broad but fractured "pro-freedom, pro-markets" movement, there are major problems as a movement and within all of them individually.

Within the Paulian crowd I think there are the most problems. The reason for this is some are Alex Jones conspiracy nuts. There also sometimes seems to be a nativist, xenophobic sentiment, which scares some people. With that said, I believe they have the best chance for getting the political power to stop some of evil garbage coming out of Washington.

I came to a kind of (David) Friedman/Hoppe/Rothbard hybrid position over a three year period of study. Study that happened after being exposed to Paul's presidential campaign. I was a moderate social democrat, that became a Paulian constutionalist, that became a classical liberal, that became a minarchist to what I am now.

I can understand what Boettke's saying. Now, I am no academic. I am just an average guy that never finished college, but have a decent middle class job and am a avid reader. If I talk to friends or family about this stuff, I am sometimes blown off, "You're just another one of those crazy Ron Paul/Alex Jones types." I suspect if I had a degree in economics, they would listen to me more, but I would still get the same level of dismissal. Getting back to Boettke-- I get painted with a broad brush by non-academics, I guessing that same behavior must be even more pronounced in academic circles. "What!? You dare to differ from our studied conventional wisdom!?"

I'm sure every Austro-libertarian academic has had to deal with the broad generalizations people make based on brand name alone. I can understand why he'd want to be viewed as something else.

With all that said, unless one of that crowd wins the nobel prize, I think it will be impossible for any name they come with to stick. You might as well try to change the formula for Coke. The term Austrian has been around too long, Hayek and Mises are universally known as Austrian economists, and currently although a minority in the profession too many people associate themselves with the name to just change.

Regarding "Am I supposed to even mention GMU at this point?" . . . Why the hell wouldn't you? Whatever their problems, they are still very good. They don't consistently put out students harping about the amazing infallible greatness of mathematical GE and game theory, do they?

I don't really care what they call themselves. Fact is fact. The knowledge is the knowledge. Mises used to refer to his system as "Modern Subjectivist Economics." Whatever the name, the ideas were sound and they live on because of the soundness, not label.

The fact that some people are annoyed with this I think shows how fractured things are.
Regarding "Am I supposed to even mention GMU at this point?" . . . Why the hell wouldn't you? Whatever their problems, they are still very good.

You misunderstood. I wasn't asking if I should deem GMU a good place for them to go, I was asking if the people at GMU wanted a student who, say, got interested in ABCT because of Ron Paul.
I've got a theory: Lew Rockwell is currently shitting himself.

I'm not kidding, he's made three blog posts about the fact that they've changed the name of their blog.

Him and his institute of racist homophones have been free riding off the academic reputation of serious economists over the past few years.

A year ago I did a history of economic thought class and the only living Austrians mentioned were Kirzner, Boettke and Caldwell.

No MI nutjobs.
By the way, look at the vitriol being spewed out in the comments at MR by the nuts who post on the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog, or on the other post of yours or wherever.

Besides the blatant homophobia and crankery that anybody would want to distance themselves from it just shows how many losers follow the LvMI dogma like religion.
No wonder Gene got the fuck outta that joint.
Anon wrote:

Him and his institute of racist homophones...

Does that mean they sound gay?

By the way, look at the vitriol being spewed out in the comments at MR by the nuts who post on the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog, or on the other post of yours or wherever.

If we get to judge the LvMI by the blog comments of Beefcake the Mighty, can you evaluate the academic prowess of GMU by the blog comments of you?
Anonymous, having a number of posts in short succession on a topic is not unusual for the LRC blog. This could easily be forgotten in a couple days. It doesn't seem any different to me than the other childish opportunities disputants have taken.

Furthermore, most people affiliated with LvMI (Murphy here and Kinsella, for instance) would not like to be represented by the pseudonymous trolls. Do you think the GMU Austrians or non-Austrian libertarians would like to be associated with your comments?

Bob, I'm going to take a wild guess and say that most of the blog formerly known as TAE/or the GMU guys generally were not terribly sophisticated as undergraduates. Hopefully they wouldn't be so close-minded, but I can't speak for them.
"If we get to judge the LvMI by the blog comments of Beefcake the Mighty, can you evaluate the academic prowess of GMU by the blog comments of you?

I don't go to GMU, I think Beefcake the Mighty got his PhD from the Mises U.

So no.
"If we get to judge the LvMI by the blog comments of Beefcake the Mighty, can you evaluate the academic prowess of GMU by the blog comments of you?

I don't go to GMU, I think Beefcake the Mighty got his PhD from the Mises U.

So no.
Beefcake the Mighty may have invented music but I haven't read anything about him attending Mises U. So far 0-0.
I'd say its a "yes."
I am the first Anonymous poster on this thread. Just wanted to respond to Bob. (Sorry, I don't have a google account to leave a name.)

Bob Murphy: "You misunderstood. I wasn't asking if I should deem GMU a good place for them to go, I was asking if the people at GMU wanted a student who, say, got interested in ABCT because of Ron Paul."

My apologies, yes I completely misunderstood and you raise a good point. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think they would take anybody that was a worthy student, that includes a hardline Paul supporter. If they don't, then it's a real shame. The fact that the very idea of this happening could cause your and other Austrians' students turmoil suggests that other avenues need to be developed.

As far as the other anonymous' stupid and insulting comments: If you disagree, you can at least be an adult about it. Your stupidity and vitriol is childish. You're doing the same garbage you're accusing some LvMI people of doing. Get a grip.

OK, Bob, I'm going to give you a different view from "finally we're winning." Now, the view I'm stating is one-sided and exagerated, ut I'm doing that to balance what I take to be the equally one-sided view you are giving. The truth, I think, is to average these two views -- but let me proceed with a metaphor:

Pete Boettke has been courting a woman, let's call her 'Austriana,' for many years. He has been very sincere in his interest, faithful to her, showering her with great attention, etc. etc.

But the whole time Austriana has been telling him, "No, I'm committed to being a chaste virgin my whole life. I like you but I'm just not interested!"

Now, it seems Pete, although still faithful, hasn't seen Austriana for a couple of years. Then, one day, he decides to drop by and see if she has changed her mind. He swings by her house and notices it's gaudily decorated in red neon lights. A dozen cars are pulled up outside. The front door is open, so he wanders in... and finds the woman he has been courting with a crack pipe in her mouth, in the midst of a gang-bang with about a dozen guys. Austriana sees Pete and beckons him over.

"Ah," Pete cries, "I'm not interested anymore -- forget that marriage offer!" and runs out the door.

Now, Bob M. chastises him: "Isn't it a bit exsaperating that, after spending all of those years trying to get Austriana interested in sex, just when she does get interested, he goes and drops her!"

Can you maybe come up with a different analogy? I'm really not seeing how yours works. To make it analogous, wouldn't Pete show up at her house the next day and say, "I can't bring myself to court the woman I saw last night, so from now on I'm calling you Colleen"?
Just to clarify Gene: The reason I think your analogy isn't very good is that Boettke and Horwitz keep stressing that the object of their affections is just as great as it (she) was last week. They are just using a different label for the same chaste maiden, because other suitors are singing baudy poems to wenches with the same name and it confuses passersby.

And at this point I don't know where Ron Paul fits in.
Bob, that's why I called it a metaphor and not an analogy.

When someone says, "The shield is the cup of Ares," do you say, "Wow, Ares must drink a lot of wine!'
The Ludwig von Mises Institute has identified Austrian economics with:

* Generous use of sneer quotes, name calling and ad hominem arguments generally.

* Rejection of science, data, and general common sense.

* Irresponsible anarchism, calls for anarchy regardless of the consequences.

* Absurd use of ceteris paribus.

* A cultish mentality.

* Oafish behavior generally.

They've soiled the Austrian Economics name. Moving on makes sense.
Hey Anonymous asshole, I got my
PhD from MIT, thank you very much.
I just checked out Carl Milsted's website; talk about a guy with WAY too much fucking time on his hands.
the Mises Institute of Tyranny as started by Hans Hoppe, is that what you mean?

Was your PhD is White-Supremicist-Ology?
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